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SDSU Extension Collaborates to Serve Dairy Producers Along I-29

BROOKINGS, S.D. - As kids, Greg and Jim Moes and their siblings, helped their parents milk the family's 30 dairy cows each morning and night.

For the 1950s and 60s the Moes were considered typical South Dakota dairy farmers.

Nearly six decades later, the brothers remain involved in South Dakota's dairy industry near their childhood home of Goodwin; however, their operation looks much different.

Today, Greg and Jim, along with their sons, milk 2,000 head of dairy cows.

"Things are much different today. If they (consumers) know where milk comes from, unfortunately most still think we are milking in a little red barn," says Greg Moes, 65, who works to inform consumers through annual tours of his farm which he guides for area fourth grade classes.

To remain competitive and efficient, the men rely on the latest technology and management practices - many of which they glean from the SDSU Extension dairy team, other dairy producers and experts they connect with through the I-29 Moo University Collaboration.

"Everything is changing so fast. These programs connect producers to information and other producers," says Moes, who also opens up MoDak Dairy for SDSU Extension and public tours.

Established as a multi-state learning community, the I-29 Moo University Collaboration connects extension dairy staff and dairy producers from North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska to share research, information and management practices through workshops, webinars, monthly e-newsletters and on-farm tours.

Collaboration with extension staff and progressive dairy producers maximizes resources and outreach, explains Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist.

"Although we're all focused on the dairy industry, all extension staff have expertise in specific areas. This collaboration allows us to pull from a large pool of extension staff and producers to expand our knowledge and resource base," says Erickson, who served as the 2014-2016 chair of the I-29 Moo University Collaboration.

"This collaboration allows us to reach an even larger number of producers than if we were doing these programs individually within each of our states," adds Kim Clark, Nebraska Dairy Extension Educator and current I-29 Moo University chair.

Clark explains that programming focus is determined by producers' needs and industry trends.

In 2017, more than 325 producers participated in workshops, tours and webinars that focused on robotic milkers, adding on-farm value to dairy products, planting and feeding forages and cover crops, raising dairy beef cattle, employee training and the Dairy Margin Protection Program. An additional 700 stakeholders access the I-29 Moo University e-newsletter on a monthly basis from all over the world.

Employee training is an on-going challenge, key to success, explains Moes, who employs nearly 40 individuals. "We are producers, not teachers."

For employee training, Maristela Rovai, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Dairy Specialist with a Ph.D in Veterinary Science, has become one of the I-29 Moo University Collaborative go-to experts. Rovai is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese as she is from Brazil. Along with milking procedures, cow health and safety, Rovai collaborates with her SDSU Extension teammate, Heidi Carroll, SDSU Extension Livestock Stewardship Associate and Erickson to provide dairy cattle handling and employee training workshops.

"I truly believe that when we understand the "why", we perform our jobs better," Rovai explains. "It is not profitable for dairy farmers just to say, 'do this task this way.' Employees need to understand the reason, so they perform at a 100 percent commitment level.'"

For maximum milk production, research has proven dairy cows respond to certain procedures done specific ways and they appreciate consistency.

To make training consistent and effective, Rovai, developed the SDSU Extension Dairy Toolbox training modules - produced in Spanish and English - so producers and employees have access to research-based employee training in one kit. She also collaborates with Carroll and Erickson for the Dairy Toolbox training.

"Our employees feel better about the work they do when they clearly understand what they are doing and they appreciate being able to call Maristela to visit about other questions they may have," Moes says.

It's no secret that turnover drops when employees understand and enjoy the work they do. This has been Wim Hammink's experience. Hammink co-owns Hammink Dairy LLC near Bruce with his wife, Nicolien and son, Tom. They employee 30 individuals.

In addition, to employee training and human resource advice, the Hammink's have gained valuable information on balancing forage rations and calf health by working with the SDSU Extension dairy team and I-29 Moo University collaborating partners.

"There are not a whole lot of educational opportunities available outside of SDSU Extension, unless you count different animal health or dairy equipment companies who put on trainings. But, it is nice to have access to people who are not trying to sell something," Hammink says.

Over the years, the Hamminks have hosted I-29 Moo University Collaboration on their dairy. They appreciate the opportunity the collaborative gives them to connect with other dairy producers.

"You get into your own ways of doing things, and those are not always the best ways," Hammink says. "There are so many things you can change that will impact your milk production - I would say there are endless possibilities to make small improvements. By talking with other guys you always learn what things you want to do or change and what things you are doing that you should keep doing."

To learn more about how SDSU Dairy Extension supports South Dakota dairy producers, the I-29 Moo University Collaborative or to request a customized on-farm training from SDSU Extension staff in English or Spanish contact Erickson by email or Rovai by email.

Greg Moes
Greg Moes operates a 2,000-head dairy near Goodwin.
Maristela Rovai, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Dairy and Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist with training participants.
Employee training is an on-going challenge, key to success. In this picture, skid load safety training is being provided.
Participants observing dairy calves in a pen.
Participants observing dairy calves in a pen.
Wim Hammink
Wim Hammink co-owns Hammink Dairy LLC near Bruce with his wife, Nicolien and son, Tom.